Don’t get me wrong, sometimes a good spa day, or a long bubble bath with the door locking out the rest of the world (earplugs might be needed if you’re locking out toddlers, or in my case a dog who is consistently HORRIFIED at baths and growls at me when I’m in one, then backs up and refuses to get closer than 2 feet away from the tub), or a glass (bottle) of wine, or whatever you need to take a 1/2 hour and relax is EXACTLY what’s needed. The point of self-care is to pay attention to what you need to recharge, or as I I often think of it, refill the cup, because when the cup is empty there’s nothing left to give anyone else.
Yep, I get that parents’ first reaction is “I’m a PARENT, I don’t have time for self-care, my kids need me 24/7.” This is NOT any sort of parental-shaming thing. Hey, when your babies are little I totally get that. When your kids are old enough to pour their own cereal in the morning I can’t see carving out 30 minutes for yourself as selfish: it’s self-care, and it’s necessary, and at that point it’s a choice. I say this because I’ve BEEN a caregiver to someone who needed full time physical and emotional support after traumatic injury (including getting him out of bed, into the shower, etc.) and it was a full time job on top of my job and the house and the pets and everything. It was fucking HARD, regardless of the love involved. And now with cancer I see other caregivers burning out all the time. It’s exhausting. You are a better caregiver if you can make enough time for yourself to have the energy to caregive, that’s all I’m saying.
So anyway, MY versions of lazy self-care include reading all day, eating way too much chocolate or junk food, sleeping in, long baths, (this isn’t a dating app…it’s not sexy stuff people). I’ve been so tired/sore/sick from chemo for the last four months most of my self-care included multiple naps and trying to drink enough water to keep from dehydrating, and for a few months finding foods I could easily toss up if necessary.
Yesterday I went to Costco, because I feel better on this drug and I’m trying to get my shit together. Last week my meds changed and gave me a rough exhaustion and soreness week, but yesterday and today I’m good, so it’s time to do what I can while I can. And I discovered at Costco (besides toilet paper: woohoo!) that something I’ve taken for granted since I was a kid taking care of horses on the farm is gone. I couldn’t lift a 50# (yes youngsters, that used to be a sign to indicate pounds, not a hashtag) bag of water softener salt. I had to go back at the end of the day with Dad so he could get 2 bags for me and bring them to the basement*, because I literally couldn’t lift them. It’s humiliating as hell, I’m not gonna lie. Apparently the 40lbs I lost during AC treatment was a lot of muscle. I feel cheated on that, really.
Self-care isn’t just the easy relaxing stuff. Sometimes it’s the shitty stuff you have to do to BE better:
- Getting up and making eggs for breakfast instead of skipping or getting Starbucks, because eggs are the perfect protein and I need to fuel this sick body to regrow my hair and help gain muscle back. Incorporating real diet changes (not a “diet” in the weight loss sense: diet in the fuel sense) that will help me get better, without giving up ALL my favorites. I’m not going full keto, full vegan, full vegetarian, or any of the fad types of diets, but I’m paying more attention and focusing on things that will help me rebuild. I’m done dieting or worrying about my weight: it’s too much energy and a shitty thing to focus on when life is short. Cutting out most of my sugar and eating to fuel appropriately along with my workouts (next bullet point) will take care of that naturally anyway.
- Figuring out what I can do to workout, even if it’s just a few minutes a day, after discovering I can’t do yoga anymore (not strong enough to do most of the poses), and DOING those exercises. I’m considering it an unofficial physical therapy regimen. I’ve been warned one of the side effects of the long term pill I’ll be on after radiation is potential for blood clots, so moving more/less sitting still will be a long term life change that needs to start now.
- NOT putting off the hard emotional things that come along with this change in my life. I’m not joking when I say the Jess you knew last fall is not the same as the Jess you’d meet now. Cancer is a death, I’m just lucky and have a rebirth chance after this year of treatment is over (yes by the time I’m actually settled into post-radiation and my pills have started it and <hopefully> this port is out of my chest, it will have been about a year since diagnosis). There’s a lot to work through, and a lot of expectations and hopes to let go of. Then there’s a lot of work to create new hopes, new meaning, and a new life. That’s a lot of fear to get over: I’m nowhere near done, and it’s HARD, uncomfortable, tear-inducing work. Self-care SUCKS sometimes.
- Recognizing my limitations right now, and as humiliating as that is, dealing with them. Today I realized I’m grateful as hell to be able to hire a lawn service for the summer, because I never even got the leaves off the ground in the back yard last fall (I think with some awesome help I sent 22 bags total and that was about 1/2 of what my trees offer in the fall). I’ve never been so happy to have leaf blowers making noise in my yard at 8am. That’s not a euphemism: I think those 3 dudes will have the whole yard done in an hour. I haven’t had the energy to even fill a single bag all spring, and radiation will make me tired over the weekends until August or so: I’m relieved that if I’m too tired to handle the lawn they’ll just come do it like clockwork every week.
- Working on making the house I moved into a real home. More importantly, MY home, instead of this place I eat/sleep in. That means cleaning, organizing, and making changes (Oh yes, I have plans to get rid of the greige paint, at least in some places). Some of those are required changes (the PANTRY DOOR just randomly fell down the other day. WHAT THE FUCK? no one was near it…just fell out of the track and on the floor). Related: my pantry is really excellently designed, but ugly as hell. Bad yellow paint, dirty peeling shelf liner,a nd because it’s mine it’s terribly unorganized. Seems like a good kitchen project since I now need new doors. I hated those doors anyway…so there we go.
This chemo/covid isolation stuff is hard. Really hard: I’ve been doing it for nearly 5 months now and I slept through the first couple, so my self-care routine was the bare survival stuff. Now it’s more, and it’s harder, and I still take the bubble baths and have the chocolate and order takeout because I’m too damn lazy to cook. Recharging or refilling my cup is important, even as I’m cleaning out that cup so I can increase the capacity overall.
Do what you need to do to get through, and be kind to yourself during all this. Refill your cup as much as you can, and recognize this will be over eventually. If you have time and capacity for the harder self-care, do some. If not, don’t. Long term growth is long term: work on what you can while you can and have the damn chocolate or face mask or extra sleep whenever you can.
*Yes, I went in the basement with Dad. He sent me down first (he doesn’t care about centipedes: he had the 2 bags of salt so I had to turn lights on, and be laughed at). No, the centipede monster was nowhere to be found, although we did see a silverfish or two (which Dad killed) and there are a couple cellar spiders down there. I can see why a predator lives there. fAngus has been hunting the basement since the monster disappeared from the stairwell last weekend, so either he’s become a kitty treat or he’s wisely hiding. If I never SEE him, I appreciate the eating of the other bugs: same as spiders. Eventually the basement will be finished, so it’s helpful to have a couple little predators protecting the house from any termite or silverfish issues. But never near people. Dad thinks I’m ridiculous.